Settle It: Vanderbilt vs. Ole Miss, who will win Thursday night’s showcase?

Photo: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

It’s finally here: Time to put down the depth charts. Time to finally take those recruiting rankings and put them in a place you won’t find them for a long, long time.

It’s Thursday night. It’s the up-and-coming Ole Miss Rebels and the dynamic Vanderbilt Commodores. It’s SEC football. Finally.

After waiting more than 230 days for some pigskin, we finally get it, and with a fantastic matchup. Rebels coach Hugh Freeze led his program to a shocking seven wins a year ago. That total included victories over Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl and then over Pitt in the Compass Bowl. He and his staff kept the momentum going through the winter.

In fact, February was arguably an even bigger month than December or January in Oxford. Not only did the nation’s top-rated overall recruit, defensive end Robert Nkdemiche, sign on the dotted line, but he was joined by the No. 1-rated offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil and the No. 1 wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. That is quite a bit of star power, but they’re still teenagers.

Instead, Freeze will be leaning upon his veteran stars to make moves against the ‘Dores. Quarterback Bo Wallace is a junior now, and if he cuts down on his 17 interceptions of a year ago, he could become one of the most dangerous passers in the SEC. The 6-foot-4, 204-pounder will be looking for Donte Moncrief early and often – of course, that’s after finding him in the end zone 10 times in 2012.

Running back Jeff Scott tallied 850 yards a year ago, and he will be looking to break the 1,000-yard plateau as a senior in 2013.

It will not be easy, however. The Rebels themselves boast a star linebacker in Denzel Nkemdiche (Robert’s older brother), but Vanderbilt LB Chase Garnham is poised to stuff the league. Safety Kenny Ladler led the team in tackles last year, and he is back for more on Thursday night. Fellow defensive back Javon Marshall also returns. In all, Vandy brings back six of its top seven tacklers from last fall.

That being said, the most talented returnee on the entire field will be Commodores wide receiver Jordan Matthews. Now a senior, the preseason All-American hauled in 94 receptions for 1,323 and eight scores in 2012. Following the graduation of star signal-caller Jordan Rodgers, Matthews will have a new quarterback lobbing him passes in Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels.

Matthews will not, however, have his receiving mate across the field from him. Chris Boyd, after catching 50 passes for 774 yards and five scores last year, was expected to join Matthews and form the most dynamic receiving duo in the conference.

Instead, he will be sifting through legal hurdles as one of five Vanderbilt players indicted in the case of the raping of an unconscious girl.

It happened, and we had to mention it here. We understand that it’s a buzzkill, but it is something coach James Franklin, his staff and the players still on the team have all been dealing with for the last month.

Have they successfully managed to put the crime out of their heads in order to prepare for Ole Miss?

Or will Hugh Freeze’s talented mix of veterans and true freshman prove too much to handle for a distracted squad missing one of the best playmakers in the conference?

We have no idea, but perhaps you do. Again, it’s Thursday. The time for offseason brew-ha-ha is finally over. It’s time to lace ’em up; it’s time to play.

It’s time to settle it.

[poll id=”187″]

Photo: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports